Further Adventures in Bus Stop Strategy

Now, this is disappointing: three mathematicians go to the trouble to model bus waiting strategy — is it better to wait or to walk to the next forward stop? — and conclude that waiting is the best option.

Why am I disappointed? Because they didn’t even consider an alternative bus waiting strategy discussed earlier on this blog: walking backward one stop.

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  1. jessica says:

    I would guess that the researchers do not live in NYC. In the US, except for Manhattan, the stops are often too far apart for going backwards to be a realistic option. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have considered it for scientific rigor.

    I too have often walked to the previous stop, especially at Broadway and 79th Street and Lexington and 67th Street. I’ve also done this in central London.

    The only times walking forward makes sense to me is when you then have the option to take another line. (for example, on Broadway in front of Lincoln Center where you can get the M104, M5, M7 and the subway), or when you can get where you are going if you can beat the bus.

    The question I always ask, however, is why people insist on getting on a crowded bus or train when they can SEE that there is another one right behind. The travel time is not much different and they will usually be more comfortable on the next bus or train.

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  2. Ben says:

    What if you get a lot of pleasure from walking? When I take the train to the city I normally forget to check the schedule and I almost always miss the train by a minute or two, when I check for the next one it isn’t for 20 to 30 minutes normally so I walk down to the next stop because it’s less than a 20 minute walk away. I feel like I get more pleasure out of walking than I would standing around waiting.

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  3. Logan says:

    The only advantage that I see in changing bus stops is if there is someone else there to flag down the bus, thus allowing me to read a book or otherwise do anything to forget that I’m waiting for the darn bus.

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  4. Jonathan says:

    I take it that it’s assumed in the study you mention that when the bus does come, you board it if you’re at the stop. Given this assumption, it’s never ideal to walk backwards from a stop.

    Relaxing that assumption would be interesting, but it would complicate things a lot — you’d have to include, as a variable, the line length and the expected seating availability.

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  5. Mike says:

    This is a rather silly math problem. The ONLY TIME you would ordinarily improve your timetable by walking is if you’re planning to walk the entire distance. Think about it this way. There are two buses, A and B. A is the bus that has most recently passed your stop, and B is the bus that is arriving next. Assume the buses don’t pass each other on their route.

    By waiting, you are guaranteed to meet bus B and arrive at your destination with bus B. The only way walking will improve your situation is if you somehow arrive before bus B – that is, walking the entire way and staying ahead of B the whole way, or somehow catching up to bus A and riding that one. And by walking, you run the risk of B passing you.

    So, wait for bus B unless you plan to walk to your destination (i.e. – you can walk there in 20 minutes and there’s a 20 minute wait for B) or you think you can catch up to the last bus that went by (which probably means traffic is so slow that you’re again better off just walking).

    How could anybody think that walking to the next stop is going to speed things up unless they plan to walk past the last bus they just missed?

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  6. George Tenet Fangirl says:

    If you’re the only person at the current stop, and you know there are others at the next stop in either direction, walking can decrease the total travel time for the bus (by reducing the number of stops it makes by one). Granted, you only get a slight benefit, but the positive externality will make you feel all good inside.

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  7. axel molotov says:

    Funny that you needed mathematicians to analyze this. I came to the same conclusion applying the theory of relativity. Which leads me to my next conclusion that one amateur (and that’s overly complementary of my abilities) physicist can do the work of three mathematicians!

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  8. Rich Wilson says:

    Can someone explain to me why so many people get on the bus and pay $1.25 (and have to spend an inordinate amount of time getting the reader to accept their tired, poor, hungry dollar bill) rather than buy a 10 ride pass for $10?

    I see lots of bus regulars paying cash, day after day.

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